A few posts ago I wrote a recipe wherein the ingredient came first and was followed by the amount. A few of you commented that this was a refreshing way to look at and follow a recipe. I agree. As do a lot of professional chefs. The most common reason for this is that it's easier, visually, to increase a recipe to the right. At Citizen Cake we had many pages in our binders where the initial size of the recipe had become obsolete and we had to increase items by 10 or 25 times!
In large scale baking there are some ingredients which cannot or should not be increased exponentially. Baking powder is one of them. Salt can be another. A chocolate chip cookie mixed by hand is a very different beast from one that occupies an 80 Quart Hobart mixer. When creaming butter and sugar for a cookie it's usually important not to add air to the mixture and this cannot be completely avoided when the paddle attachment is almost as tall as you are and weighs as much as an IBM Selectric typewriter.
Recently at a Baker's Dozen meeting for those authors who had recently come out with cookbooks a very good point was made by a great baker. She reminded us all that in order for recipes in a cookbook to be tested and re-tested, the publishing company has to sink more money into this facet. (Outside recipe testers are paid to test in their own home kitchens.) Not all publishing houses are created equal and some recipes are edited without care for continuity. As one writer put it bluntly, the author is charged for every "extra" word.
In professional kitchens recipes are usually just a list of ingredients and their amounts, (if they're typed up at all---a rarity). With much savory food the chef tells you what they want in telegram-type speech.
"Blonde chick stock. Necks too. Mirepoix. Leek tops only. Overnight."
Baking is usually a little more complicated and precise but not all pastry chefs want to give away their coveted recipes. At Citizen Cake our binders were fairly thorough in description, but they stayed on the premises. I spent a lot of time in the office putting dates on the updated recipes. Even if you are just cooking/baking at home for your own personal pleasure, this is a really good idea. I always say that it takes a few times to really "get it right." And how better to make changes but with notes about what you did last time? In the Zuni Cafe Cookbook Judy Rodgers strongly implores her readers to do this-- make the items more than a few times to really be able to capture the essence of her methods and recipes.
I have said this before: a recipe is a guide. When you know a little about baking you can start changing ingredients. For example, canola oil cannot be substituted for butter, but agar-agar can be substituted for gelatin if you understand that agar-agar is a much stronger gelling agent and it drastically alters the structure of the gelled substance. This is why "alternative baking" completely astounds me! If pastry chefs are the neurologists of the kitchen, as Anthony Bourdain astutely points out in Kitchen Confidential, then vegan bakers are the neuro-surgeon-nuclear-physicists!
Sugar 1 Cup
Egg Whites: 1/2 Cup
Cream of Tartar 1/4 teaspoon
it's very easy to increase it. And more importantly: be able to check your math! Almost every recipe disaster is because the math is wrong. Shorthand is also very helpful, even if it is only you who understands it. Some pointers:
t: is always teaspoon
T: is always tablespoon
C: is always cup
BP: baking powder
s & p: salt and pepper
yox: egg yolks
evo: extra virgin olive oil
And if you are channeling your inner Virgo, a great way to arrange your recipes is to start with the same ingredients for products that are related. Most (Western) cookies start with butter, sugar, salt, eggs, flour + leaveners, ending with add-ins. The "creaming method" always begins with butter and sugar. And then there's the shorthand for the dry-wet-dry-wet-dry method: d,w,d,w,d. Cakes with liquid ingredients oftentimes employ this as batter can easily break when the emulsion process is tenuous. These are some of the ways you will begin to intuit the methods and percentages that all recipes work from. And from here you can make the leaps into your own recipe writing.